Authors: Stephen King
Wizard and Glass
is the fourth volume of a longer tale inspired by Robert Browning’s narrative poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.”
The first volume,
tells how Roland of Gilead pursues and at last catches Walter, the man in black, who pretended friendship with Roland’s father but who actually served Marten, a great sorcerer. Catching the half-human Walter is not Roland’s goal but only a means to an end: Roland wants to reach the Dark Tower, where he hopes the quickening destruction of Mid-World may be halted, perhaps even reversed.
Roland is a kind of knight, the last of his breed, and the Tower is his obsession, his only reason for living when first we meet him. We learn of an early test of manhood forced upon him by Marten, who has seduced Roland’s mother. Marten expects Roland to fail this test and to be “sent west,” his father’s guns forever denied him. Roland, however, lays Marten’s plans at nines, passing the test . . . due mostly to his clever choice of weapon.
We discover that the gunslinger’s world is related to our own in some fundamental and terrible way. This link is first revealed when Roland meets Jake, a boy from the New York of 1977, at a desert way station. There are doors between Roland’s world and our own; one of them is death, and that is how Jake first reaches Mid-World, pushed into Forty-third Street and run over by a car. The pusher was a man named Jack Mort . . . except the thing hiding inside of Mort’s head and guiding his murderous hands on this particular occasion was Roland’s old enemy, Walter.
Before Jake and Roland reach Walter, Jake dies again . . . this time because the gunslinger, faced with an agonizing choice between this symbolic son and the Dark Tower, chooses
the Tower. Jake’s last words before plunging into the abyss are “Go, then—there are other worlds than these.”
The final confrontation between Roland and Walter occurs near the Western Sea. In a long night of palaver, the man in black tells Roland’s future with a strange Tarot deck. Three cards—The Prisoner, The Lady of the Shadows, and Death (“but not for you, gunslinger”)—are especially called to Roland’s attention.
The second volume,
The Drawing of the Three,
begins on the edge of the Western Sea not long after Roland awakens from his confrontation with his old nemesis and discovers Walter long dead, only more bones in a place of bones. The exhausted gunslinger is attacked by a horde of carnivorous “lobstrosities,” and before he can escape them, he has been seriously wounded, losing the first two fingers of his right hand. He is also poisoned by their bites, and as he resumes his trek northward along the Western Sea, Roland is sickening . . . perhaps dying.
On his walk he encounters three doors standing freely on the beach. These open into our city of New York, at three different
. From 1987, Roland draws Eddie Dean, a prisoner of heroin. From 1964, he draws Odetta Susannah Holmes, a woman who has lost her lower legs in a subway mishap . . . one that was no accident. She is indeed a lady of shadows, with a vicious second personality hiding within the socially committed young black woman her friends know. This hidden woman, the violent and crafty Detta Walker, is determined to kill both Roland and Eddie when the gunslinger draws her into Mid-World.
Between these two in time, once again in 1977, Roland enters the hellish mind of Jack Mort, who has hurt Odetta/Detta not once but twice. “Death,” the man in black told Roland, “but not for you, gunslinger.” Nor is Mort the third of whom Walter foretold; Roland prevents Mort from murdering Jake Chambers, and shortly afterward Mort dies beneath the wheels of the same train which took Odetta’s legs in 1959. Roland thus fails to draw the psychotic into Mid-World . . . but, he thinks, who would want such a being in any case?
Yet there’s a price to be paid for rebellion against a foretold future; isn’t there always? Ka,
Roland’s old teacher, Cort, might have said;
Such is the great wheel, and always turns. Be not in front of it when it does, or you’ll be crushed
under it, and so make an end to your stupid brains and useless bags of guts and water.
Roland thinks that perhaps he has drawn three in just Eddie and Odetta, since Odetta is a double personality, yet when Odetta and Detta merge as one in Susannah (thanks in large part to Eddie Dean’s love and courage), the gunslinger knows it’s not so. He knows something else as well: he is being tormented by thoughts of Jake, the boy who, dying, spoke of other worlds. Half of the gunslinger’s mind, in fact, believes there never
a boy. In preventing Jack Mort from pushing Jake in front of the car meant to kill him, Roland has created a temporal paradox which is tearing him apart. And, in our world, it is tearing Jake Chambers apart as well.
the third volume of the series, begins with this paradox. After killing a gigantic bear named either Mir (by the old people who went in fear of it) or Shardik (by the Great Old Ones who built it . . . for the bear turns out to be a cyborg), Roland, Eddie, and Susannah backtrack the beast and discover the Path of the Beam. There are six of these beams, running between the twelve portals which mark the edges of Mid-World. At the point where the beams cross—at the center of Roland’s world, perhaps the center of all worlds—the gunslinger believes that he and his friends will at last find the Dark Tower.
By now Eddie and Susannah are no longer prisoners in Roland’s world. In love and well on the way to becoming gunslingers themselves, they are full participants in the quest and follow him willingly along the Path of the Beam.
In a speaking ring not far from the Portal of the Bear, time is mended, paradox is ended, and the
third is at last drawn. Jake reenters Mid-World at the conclusion of a perilous rite where all four—Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Roland—remember the faces of their fathers and acquit themselves honorably. Not long after, the quartet becomes a quintet, when Jake befriends a billy-bumbler. Bumblers, which look like a combination of badger, raccoon, and dog, have a limited speaking ability. Jake names his new friend Oy.
The way of the pilgrims leads them toward Lud, an urban wasteland where the degenerate survivors of two old factions, the Pubes and the Grays, carry on the vestige of an old conflict. Before reaching the city, they come to a little town called River Crossing, where a few antique residents still remain.
They recognize Roland as a remnant of the old days, before the world moved on, and honor him and his companions. After, the old people tell them of a monorail train which may still run from Lud and into the wastelands, along the Path of the Beam and toward the Dark Tower.
Jake is frightened by this news, but not really surprised; before being drawn away from New York, he obtained two books from a bookstore owned by a man with the thought-provoking name of Calvin Tower. One is a book of riddles with the answers torn out. The other,
Charlie the Choo-Choo,
is a children’s book about a train. An amusing little tale, most might say . . . but to Jake, there’s something about Charlie that isn’t amusing at all. Something frightening. Roland knows something else: in the High Speech of his world, the word
Aunt Talitha, the matriarch of the River Crossing folk, gives Roland a silver cross to wear, and the travellers go their course. Before reaching Lud, they discover a downed plane from our world—a German fighter from the 1930s. Jammed into the cockpit is the mummified corpse of a giant, almost certainly the half-mythical outlaw David Quick.
While crossing the dilapidated bridge which spans the River Send, Jake and Oy are nearly lost in an accident. While Roland, Eddie, and Susannah are distracted by this, the party is ambushed by a dying (and very dangerous) outlaw named Gasher. He abducts Jake and takes him underground to the Tick-Tock Man, the last leader of the Grays. Tick-Tock’s real name is Andrew Quick; he is the great-grandson of the man who died trying to land an airplane from another world.
While Roland (aided by Oy) goes after Jake, Eddie and Susannah find the Cradle of Lud, where Blaine the Mono awakes. Blaine is the last aboveground tool of the vast computer-system which lies beneath the city of Lud, and it has only one remaining interest: riddles. It promises to take the travellers to the monorail’s final stop if they can solve a riddle it poses them. Otherwise, Blaine says, the only trip they’ll be taking will be to the place where the path ends in the clearing . . . to their deaths, in other words. In that case they’ll have plenty of company, for Blaine is planning to release stocks of nerve-gas which will kill everyone left in Lud: Pubes, Grays, and gunslingers alike.
Roland rescues Jake, leaving the Tick-Tock Man for dead . . .
but Andrew Quick is not dead. Half blind, hideously wounded about the face, he is rescued by a man who calls himself Richard Fannin. Fannin, however, also identifies himself as the Ageless Stranger, a demon of whom Roland has been warned by Walter.
Roland and Jake are reunited with Eddie and Susannah in the Cradle of Lud, and Susannah—with a little help from “dat bitch” Detta Walker—is able to solve Blaine’s riddle. They gain access to the mono, of necessity ignoring the horrified warnings of Blaine’s sane but fatally weak undermind (Eddie calls this voice Little Blaine), only to discover that Blaine means to commit suicide with them aboard. The fact that the actual mind running the mono exists in computers falling farther and farther behind them, running beneath a city which has become a slaughtering-pen, will make no difference when the pink bullet jumps the tracks somewhere along the line at a speed in excess of eight hundred miles an hour.
There is only one chance of survival: Blaine’s love of riddles. Roland of Gilead proposes a desperate bargain. It is with this bargain that
ends; it is with this bargain that
Wizard and Glass
: Lady, by yonder blessed moon I vow,
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops—
: O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
: What shall I swear by?
: Do not swear at all.
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee.
—Romeo and Juliet
On the fourth day, to [Dorothy’s] great joy, Oz sent for when she entered the Throne Room, he greeted her pleasantly.
“Sit down, my dear. I think I have found a way to get of this country.”
“And back to Kansas?” she asked eagerly.
“Well, I’m not sure about Kansas,” said Oz, “for I haven’t the faintest notion which way it lies. . . .”
—The Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards—the soldier’s art:
One taste of the old time sets all to rights!
—Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came
“ASK ME A RIDDLE,” Blaine invited.
“Fuck you,” Roland said. He did not raise his voice.
DO YOU SAY?” In its clear disbelief, the voice of Big Blaine had become very close to the voice of its unsuspected twin.
“I said fuck you,” Roland said calmly, “but if that puzzles you, Blaine, I can make it clearer. No. The answer is no.”
There was no reply from Blaine for a long, long time, and when he did respond, it was not with words. Instead, the walls, floor, and ceiling began to lose their color and solidity again. In a space of ten seconds the Barony Coach once more ceased to exist. They were now flying through the mountain-range they had seen on the horizon: iron-gray peaks rushed toward them at suicidal speed, then fell away to disclose sterile valleys where gigantic beetles crawled about like landlocked turtles. Roland saw something that looked like a huge snake suddenly uncoil from the mouth of a cave. It seized one of the beetles and yanked it back into its lair. Roland had never in his life seen such animals or countryside, and the sight made his skin want to crawl right off his flesh. Blaine might have transported them to some other world.
“PERHAPS I SHOULD DERAIL US HERE,” Blaine said. His voice was meditative, but beneath it the gunslinger heard a deep, pulsing rage.
“Perhaps you should,” the gunslinger said indifferently.
Eddie’s face was frantic. He mouthed the words
What are you DOING?
Roland ignored him; he had his hands full with Blaine, and he knew perfectly well what he was doing.
“YOU ARE RUDE AND ARROGANT,” Blaine said. “THESE MAY SEEM LIKE INTERESTING TRAITS TO YOU, BUT THEY ARE NOT TO ME.”
“Oh, I can be much ruder than I have been.”
Roland of Gilead unfolded his hands and got slowly to his feet. He stood on what appeared to be nothing, legs apart, his right hand on his hip and his left on the sandalwood grip of his revolver. He stood as he had so many times before, in the dusty streets of a hundred forgotten towns, in a score of rocky canyon killing-zones, in unnumbered dark saloons with their smells of bitter beer and old fried meals. It was just another showdown in another empty street. That was all, and that was enough. It was
That the showdown always came was the central fact of his life and the axle upon which his own
revolved. That the battle would be fought with words instead of bullets this time made no difference; it would be a battle to the death, just the same. The stench of killing in the air was as clear and definite as the stench of exploded carrion in a swamp. Then the battle-rage descended, as it always did . . . and he was no longer really there to himself at all.
“I can call you a nonsensical, empty-headed, foolish machine. I can call you a stupid, unwise creature whose sense is no more than the sound of a winter wind in a hollow tree.”
Roland went on in the same serene tone, ignoring Blaine completely. “You’re what Eddie calls a ‘gadget.’ Were you more, I might be ruder yet.”
“I AM A GREAT DEAL MORE THAN JUST—”
“I could call you a sucker of cocks, for instance, but you have no mouth. I could say you’re viler than the vilest beggar who ever crawled the lowest street in creation, but even such a creature is better than you; you have no knees on which to crawl, and would not fall upon them even if you did, for you have no conception of such a human flaw as mercy. I could even say you fucked your mother, had you one.”
Roland paused for breath. His three companions were holding theirs. All around them, suffocating, was Blaine the Mono’s thunderstruck silence.
call you a faithless creature who let your only companion kill herself, a coward who has delighted in the torture of the foolish and the slaughter of the innocent, a lost and bleating mechanical goblin who—”
“I COMMAND YOU TO STOP IT OR I’LL KILL YOU ALL RIGHT HERE!”
Roland’s eyes blazed with such wild blue fire that Eddie shrank away from him. Dimly, he heard Jake and Susannah gasp.
“Kill if you will, but command me nothing!”
the gunslinger roared.
“You have forgotten the faces of those who made you! Now either kill us or be silent and listen to me, Roland of Gilead, son of Steven, gunslinger, and lord of ancient lands! I have not come across all the miles and all the years to listen to your childish prating! Do you understand? Now you will listen to ME!”
There was another moment of shocked silence. No one breathed. Roland stared sternly forward, his head high, his hand on the butt of his gun.
Susannah Dean raised her hand to her mouth and felt the small smile there as a woman might feel some strange new article of clothing—a hat, perhaps—to make sure it is still on straight. She was afraid this was the end of her life, but the feeling which dominated her heart at that moment was not fear but pride. She glanced to her left and saw Eddie regarding Roland with an amazed grin. Jake’s expression was even simpler: pure adoration.
“Tell him!” Jake breathed. “Kick his ass! Right!”
“You better pay attention,” Eddie agreed. “He really doesn’t give much of a fuck, Blaine. They don’t call him The Mad Dog of Gilead for nothing.”
After a long, long moment, Blaine asked: “DID THEY CALL YOU SO, ROLAND SON OF STEVEN?”
“They may have,” Roland replied, standing calmly on thin air above the sterile foothills.
“WHAT GOOD ARE YOU TO ME IF YOU WON’T TELL ME RIDDLES?” Blaine asked. Now he sounded like a grumbling, sulky child who has been allowed to stay up too long past his usual bedtime.
“I didn’t say we wouldn’t,” Roland said.
“NO?” Blaine sounded bewildered. “I DO NOT UNDERSTAND, YET VOICE-PRINT ANALYSIS INDICATES RATIONAL DISCOURSE. PLEASE EXPLAIN.”
“You said you wanted them right
” the gunslinger replied. “
was what I was refusing. Your eagerness has made you unseemly.”
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND.”
“It has made you rude. Do you understand
There was a long, thoughtful silence. Centuries had passed
since the computer had experienced any human responses other than ignorance, neglect, and superstitious subservience. It had been eons since it had been exposed to simple human courage. Finally: “IF WHAT I SAID STRUCK YOU AS RUDE, I APOLOGIZE.”
“It is accepted, Blaine. But there is a larger problem.”
“Close the carriage again and I will.” Roland sat down as if further argument—and the prospect of immediate death—was now unthinkable.
Blaine did as he was asked. The walls filled with color and the nightmare landscape below was once more blotted out. The blip on the route-map was now blinking close to the dot marked Candleton.
“All right,” Roland said. “Rudeness is forgivable, Blaine; so I was taught in my youth. But I was also taught that stupidity is not.”
“HOW HAVE I BEEN STUPID, ROLAND OF GILEAD?” Blaine’s voice was soft and ominous. Susannah thought of a cat crouched outside a mouse-hole, tail swishing back and forth, green eyes shining with malevolence.
“We have something you want,” Roland said, “but the only reward you offer if we give it to you is death. That’s
There was a long, long pause as Blaine thought this over. Then: “WHAT YOU SAY IS TRUE, ROLAND OF GILEAD, BUT THE QUALITY OF YOUR RIDDLES IS NOT PROVEN. I WILL NOT REWARD YOU WITH YOUR LIVES FOR BAD RIDDLES.”
Roland nodded. “I understand, Blaine. Listen, now, and take understanding from me. I have told some of this to my friends already. When I was a boy in the Barony of Gilead, there were seven Fair-Days each year—Winter, Wide Earth, Sowing, Mid-Summer, Full Earth, Reaping, and Year’s End. Riddling was an important part of every Fair-Day, but it was the most important event of the Fair of Wide Earth and that of Full Earth, for the riddles told were supposed to augur well or ill for the success of the crops.”
“THAT IS SUPERSTITION WITH NO BASIS AT ALL IN FACT,” Blaine said. “I FIND IT ANNOYING AND UPSETTING.”
“Of course it was superstition,” Roland agreed, “but you
might be surprised at how well the riddles foresaw the crops. For instance, riddle me this, Blaine: What is the difference between a grandmother and a granary?”
“THAT IS OLD AND NOT VERY INTERESTING,” Blaine said, but he sounded happy to have something to solve, just the same. “ONE IS ONE’S BORN KIN; THE OTHER IS ONE’S CORN-BIN. A RIDDLE BASED ON PHONETIC COINCIDENCE. ANOTHER OF THIS TYPE, ONE TOLD ON THE LEVEL WHICH CONTAINS THE BARONY OF NEW YORK, GOES LIKE THIS: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CAT AND A COMPLEX SENTENCE?”
Jake spoke up. “I know. A cat has claws at the end of its paws, and a complex sentence has a pause at the end of its clause.”
“YES,” Blaine agreed. “A VERY SILLY OLD RIDDLE, USEFUL ONLY AS A MNEMONIC DEVICE.”
“For once I agree with you, Blaine old buddy,” Eddie said.
“I AM NOT YOUR BUDDY, EDDIE OF NEW YORK.”
“Well, jeez. Kiss my ass and go to heaven.”
“THERE IS NO HEAVEN.”
Eddie had no comeback for that one.
“I WOULD HEAR MORE OF FAIR-DAY RIDDLING IN GILEAD, ROLAND SON OF STEVEN.”
“At noon on Wide Earth and Full Earth, somewhere between sixteen and thirty riddlers would gather in the Hall of the Grandfathers, which was opened for the event. Those were the only times of year when common folk—merchants and farmers and ranchers and such—were allowed into the Hall of the Grandfathers, and on that day they
The gunslinger’s eyes were far away and dreamy; it was the expression Jake had seen on his face in that misty other life, when Roland had told him of how he and his friends, Cuthbert and Jamie, had once sneaked into the balcony of that same Hall to watch some sort of dance-party. Jake and Roland had been climbing into the mountains when Roland had told him of that time, close on the trail of Walter.
Marten sat next to my mother and father,
Roland had said.
I knew them even from so high above—and once she and Marten danced, slowly and revolvingly, and the others cleared the floor for them and clapped when it was over. But the gunslingers did not clap. . . .
Jake looked curiously at Roland, wondering again where this strange man had come from . . . and why.
“A great barrel was placed in the center of the floor,” Roland went on, “and into this each riddler would toss a handful of bark scrolls with riddles writ upon them. Many were old, riddles they had gotten from the elders—even from books, in some cases—but many others were new, made up for the occasion. Three judges, one always a gunslinger, would pass on these when they were told aloud, and they were accepted only if the judges deemed them fair.”
“YES, RIDDLES MUST BE FAIR,” Blaine agreed.
“So they riddled,” the gunslinger said. A faint smile touched his mouth as he thought of those days, days when he had been the age of the bruised boy sitting across from him with the billy-bumbler in his lap. “For hours on end they riddled. A line was formed down the center of the Hall of the Grandfathers. One’s position in this line was determined by lot, and since it was much better to be at the end of the line than at the head, everyone hoped for a high draw, although the winner had to answer at least one riddle correctly.
“Each man or woman—for some of Gilead’s best riddlers were women—approached the barrel, drew a riddle, and if the riddle was still unanswered after the sands in a three-minute glass had run out, that contestant had to leave the line.”
“AND WAS THE SAME RIDDLE ASKED OF THE NEXT PERSON IN THE LINE?”
“SO THE NEXT PERSON HAD EXTRA TIME TO THINK.”
“I SEE. IT SOUNDS PRETTY SWELL.”
Roland frowned. “Swell?”
“He means it sounds like fun,” Susannah said quietly.
Roland shrugged. “It was fun for the onlookers, I suppose, but the contestants took it very seriously. Quite often there were arguments and fistfights after the contest was over and the prize awarded.”
“WHAT PRIZE WAS THAT, ROLAND SON OF STEVEN?”
“The largest goose in Barony. And year after year my teacher, Cort, carried that goose home.”
“I WISH HE WERE HERE,” Blaine said respectfully. “HE MUST HAVE BEEN A GREAT RIDDLER.”
“Indeed he was,” Roland said. “Are you ready for my proposal, Blaine?”
“OF COURSE. I WILL LISTEN WITH GREAT INTEREST, ROLAND OF GILEAD.”
“Let these next few hours be our Fair-Day. You will not riddle us, for you wish to hear new riddles, not tell some of those millions you already know—”
“We couldn’t solve most of them, anyway,” Roland went on. “I’m sure you know riddles that would have stumped even Cort, had they been pulled out of the barrel.” He was not sure of it at all, but the time to use the fist had passed and the time to use the feather had come.
“OF COURSE,” Blaine agreed.
“Instead of a goose, our lives shall be the prize,” Roland said. “We will riddle you as we run, Blaine. If, when we come to Topeka, you have solved every one of our riddles, you may carry out your original plan and kill us. That is your goose. But if
—if there is a riddle in either Jake’s book or one of our heads which you don’t know and can’t answer—you must take us to Topeka and then free us to pursue our quest. That is